Like so many of my fellow Mississippians, I grew up in the Southern Baptists churches of the 1970’s and 1980’s. I was ably served by my Sunday school teachers and my self-taught-biblical-scholar mother. From their capable and enthusiastic hands, I came to know the Bible quite well, at least for a teenager. My journey to Catholicism started around the time I went to college at the University of Southern Mississippi. College days were, happily enough, a time of soul searching and thinking about life and man’s place in the cosmos.
As I studied comparative religions under Dr. Clayton Sullivan, I began to see that Catholicism was a bit stricter than I understood other streams of Christianity to be. Being a Catholic was demanding and difficult and if it was old fashioned, the hierarchy of the church took pride in that description. Once I found the Apocrypha and discovered what it was and why it was in the Catholic bible, I knew where I needed to be.
My twenties passed and eventually, I found myself in a beautiful little church in a small town called Crystal Springs, Mississippi, going through the catechism learning process to become a Catholic. The classes were wonderful and deep, led by an old Irish priest (not to mention a gentle soul). We were surrounded by a group of fellow students from all walks of life. We had a young Hispanic couple who had come from Nicaragua, several local married couples of all ages and a retired CIA official.
My little family and I finished the classes and were confirmed in a solemn ceremony in early 1998. It was a time of great devotion and curiosity about my new church. I poured through various Encycles from popes through the centuries on line. I learned to pray using my rosary and studied the lives of the saints. It was a happy and electric time for me.
Unfortunately, the child sex abuse scandal rocked our church only a few years after my conversion. The more we knew, the worse the crisis seemed to be. One after another, victims of various accusers came forward, seemingly meriting a news story on every occasion. By the time the news came that some Bishops had covered up the crimes, we had stopped going to mass. I was disillusioned. Though I felt (justifiably so) that all the priests that had come into our world were trustworthy, I worried about my young son being involved in the church. Ignoring my Baptist Mom’s advice to stay faithful, I drifted away.
It was a terrible time for the church and the laity. We still haven’t recovered.
Something is currently stirring in the church, though, that might move things along.
Pope Francis is immediately proving himself to be the most noteworthy pope in decades, at least since the early 80’s version of John Paul II, who became “The Traveling Pope.” Francis has been in the Vatican for only a scant few months, but he may be the most important pope we have seen since possibly even Pope John XXII, who literally oversaw the emergence of the modern Catholic church in the span of only a few years.
Incredibly, the loudest condemnations of Pope-O-Nomics have come from the Right
When I read the news that the Pope was sending out questionnaires and surveys to parishes across the world asking for the laity’s opinions on current issues that face the church, I knew this man was going to be different. Popes just don’t do that.
Last week, that began to change when Francis announced there would be a convention of advisers from all professions to discover what happened and what changes needed to be made to stop sex abuse in the church.
Again, this reaffirms the breakthrough that seems to be happening before our eyes. It’s likely that the new Church will be significantly changed and its even possible that there could be a sea change along the lines of Vatican II, which opened the door to incredible changes in the way mass was conducted.
Every pope during my lifetime has made it a part of his ministry to care for and help the poor; but no pope in those nearly 50 years has placed emphasis on poverty the way Francis is doing now. For many American liberals and people on the Left, the change is duly noted and significant. I know many friends of that stripe who are deeply and profoundly encouraged by what is happening.
Incredibly, the loudest condemnations of Pope-O-Nomics have come from the Right, which long ago captured the hearts of Catholics with Pro-Life platforms and stances. In less than six months, people such as Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh (who called the Pope a Marxist) and Bill O’Reilly have issued various statements of concern. The pathway to tearing off yet another part of their base seems to be underway, even in tiny steps. No big deal…there’s not that many Catholics in Ohio.
I found myself at Mass recently. I intend to keep going until I am in full communion with the church.
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